It you’ve ever trained for a really big mountain — or an epic ride, or just a summer of all-purpose badassery — you know that its tough to keep the fitness momentum going. It’s freaking grueling to motivate yourself to work out week after week for months, especially when a lot of the work is mind-numbingly repetitive.
(And if you’re there right now, I totally feel you. I’m climbing Mount Ranier in July, and some days I’d rather eat a broken glass salad with diesel dressing than do another Stairmaster workout with a backpack.)
But if you’ve got a big feat of badassery in your sights, take heart. Here are five (semi) painless ways to motivate yourself to work out through months of punishing training.
1. Freshen Up Your Playlist
Music is super helpful when you need to ramp up the intensity — or for those tired days when you just need an extra kick in the ass. Here are some apps that will transform your phone into a bottomless pit of awesome tunes.
- Spotify Premium ($9.99/month) and Napster Premier ($9.99/month) allow you to download just about any song you can think of to your phone for offline play. (Even long-time holdout Metallica is giving in to the digital craze, at least for their latest album.) Both services also allow you to create radio channels based on your fav artists and songs, which is a great way to discover new tracks.
- Shazam (FREE). Keeping your playlist full and fresh can be tough when you’re working out 10-plus hours a week. Use Shazam to discover new songs at the gym, at the grocery store, in the car, on TV, or wherever. Just open the app while a song is playing and hit the button to discover its title and artist. Once a week, I go into my history and add everything I Shazam-ed to my playlist.
Bonus tip: If music helps you, stay on top of your playlist. Schedule 30 minutes at the start of each week to update it. Rotate your songs frequently to avoid burning out on your favorites.
2. Learn Something
The spoken word can be a great accompaniment for longer, less intense workouts like backpack hikes. Use that time to learn something or just get your reading done with the following apps:
- Podcasts (FREE) for iOS and Android. Seriously, I don’t know how I hiked alone before these existed. They’re lightweight, so you can download multiple seasons of them to your phone without taking up too much space. Also, because the hosts are talking to you, they kind of feel like company. New to the genre? Check out Outside’s list of outdoorsy podcasts.
- Audible (Starts at $14.95/month). Catch up on your reading while you work out with Amazon’s ebook service. The lowest-tier price includes 1 book per month with discounts on additional books.
- YouTube Red ($9.99/month Android, $12.99/month iOS). Allows you to download your favorite videos so you can listen to them offline. Useful if you like some creators who prefer this format over Podcasts.
3. Get Statistical
They say you can’t change what you can’t measure, and athletic performance is no exception. Having some performance stats is a great way to track your progress and compete with yourself.
There are a bunch of great fitness tracking apps out there, but personally I love the simplicity of Strava (FREE, featured in the above video). Track your splits and elevation gain and earn trophies for improving your performance on the same segment or course. Strava has running and cycling settings; the running mode also works fine for hiking, snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing.
4. Mix It Up
Being disciplined doesn’t have to mean doing the same thing every week for months on end. Here are some ways to vary your workout.
- Play with speed. If you’re on a longer run, ride, or hike, add some intervals to keep things fun and fresh. These don’t have to be super structured or timed. You can alternate your fast and slow legs between lamp posts, by city blocks, by counting your strides, or by putting in extra effort on hills.
- Try something new. Can’t bear one more day on the stair mill or elliptical? Replace one cardio workout a week with Tabata or Battle Ropes. (You can even buy your own ropes for days when you’re traveling — or just too lazy for the gym. And if you dig Tabata, ACTIVEx has a free iOS app for you.)
- Change locations. My running coach used to have us do our speed workouts at the cemetery at night. Why? Because sometimes novelty distracts you just enough to dull the pain. So once in a while, try taking your gym workout outdoors. (Worried about maintaining intensity outside the gym? A heart rate monitor is your friend. Here’s one that works with Strava. And here are some biometric bluetooth headphones that actually measure your heart rate.)
- Cross Training. Training for a big peak doesn’t mean you have to give up other pleasures like mountain biking. Taking a weekly spin in the dirt can keep your mind and body fresh and give your knees a break. (Just make sure you’re still working in plenty of sport-specific training.)
5. Get Some Wingmen
Nothing lifts you up while training like some badass company. Instead of scrambling for new training buddies every week, set a standing “friends” workout that always happens at the same day and time. This can be a training hike, a long run or ride, or even a track workout.
Then designate a fixed meeting place and let friends know they’re invited, no RSVP needed. Send out personal invites to your most reliable buddies for the first few weeks until they get the idea. But after that, it’ll likely run on autopilot. To boost engagement, post reminders on your Facebook and social media.
Finally, don’t forget to be kind to yourself
It would be awesome to go an entire year crushing it on a daily basis. But that kind of intensity really isn’t sustainable.
When you’re training for a big goal, you’re inevitably going to take breaks due to illness, family commitments, plumbing disasters, and the occasional snow-mageddon. This is totally OK.
The idea isn’t to do everything perfect. It’s to stay in it for the long haul, doing your best, improvising as needed, and (ideally) having some fun.